Generally, the calibre of the current batch of Tory MPs is exceptionally high.
There is great interest in policy and ideas. There is tremendous dedication to constituency interests and campaigning. Overwhelmingly there is great comradarie between Tory MPs and their Party activists. Despite all the swipes about Eton, the range of backgrounds that Tory MPs come from is wider than ever before. Most Tory MPs are decent people motivated to take part in politics for the right reasons – foremost being patriotism.
Yet it would be quite wrong for any Tory MP, however safe their seat, to assume they had a job for life. That sense of entitlement especially angered the public after the 2008 expenses scandal. The proposed “right of recall” for MPs involved in serious wrong doing was a response to that – although it has been shelved amidst a failure to agree how it should be applied.
It is entirely proper for a constituency association to choose a new candidate even if their incumbent MP has not been involved in any scandal, but simply because they are not good enough: they may be lazy or ineffective or show poor judgment, and it is felt that someone else could do a better job.
Deselections are rare, although we have had a couple recently. Naturally the MP facing removal tends to be better connected to the media than those seeking their removal.
So, for example, those choosing whether or not Anne McIntosh should be the Conservative candidate for Thirsk and Malton, were presented as deciding whether or not they wished to have a woman MP. This caricature struck me as insulting for all concerned. Were those who supported Miss McIntosh only doing so because she is a woman? Martin Vander Weyer writes:
“Not since pre-Thatcher days have shire Tory grandees been able to slip favoured chaps into safe seats. I have never heard anyone in Thirsk and Malton say anything other than that they would like a choice of good candidates, preferably not called McIntosh. Nor have I ever heard ‘silly little girl’– she is, after all, almost 60. Despite the ‘stench of misogyny’ sniffed by the Daily Mail, numerous of the members who have called for her to go are women.”
Tim Yeo claimed he was deselected in South Suffolk due to his support for gay marriage. Mr Yeo’s media allies eagerly picked up the story. Yet the Mail on Sunday reports that Simon Barrett, deputy chairman of the association, and key backer of the deselection, does not fit the homophobe caricature. Mr Barrett said his son Oliver, a doctor, is to marry his partner, a male nurse, in December, and adds:
“Tim Yeo is talking a load of tosh. Just because we live in Suffolk does not mean we all chew turnips and are homophobic. No father could be more proud of his son than I am of Oliver. It will be one of the proudest days in my life when I attend his wedding to his boyfriend Jonathan in December.
“Mr Yeo is making excuses. The reason he was deselected is that he has been absent. We hardly ever see him and people got sick of it. To claim it is because we are anti same-sex marriage is laughable – and wrong.”
If a constituency association believes that a sitting Tory MP is not up to the job – for whatever reason – then they have a duty to do something about it. Deselection will always be a last resort. It is much easier and nicer for volunteers not to bother with the process.
But the media should not be so quick to insult Conservative Party members who feel they need to resort to it. Their motives should not be impugned without evidence. CCHQ and David Cameron should keep out of it.
Localism is a good principle and the Conservative Party should apply it to itself as well as the nation. Trust in politics can only be restored from the bottom up.